A Montessori environment is a beautiful way for young children to develop and learn. Montessori education, which was started by Dr. Maria Montessori, provides an education as an aid to life. The Montessori method, both for education and life in general, offers a hands-on approach to things of this world. I am a Montessori-trained teacher and spent many years in a Montessori classroom. I am going to share with you some practical ways to incorporate Montessori into your home with some actionable tips.
Start By Preparing Your Environment
The prepared environment is the vehicle in which you will be able to implement Montessori at home. We can work towards preparing our home based on the needs of our children. Montessori parenting embodies the same principles and ideas as a Montessori classroom environment. This does not mean you need to, nor should you, replicate a Montessori classroom in your home. But there are things you can do to bring Montessori and your home together.
One of the main ways you can implement Montessori in your home is through practical life. Practical life is simply those everyday life types of activities. The materials needed for practical life exercises are likely things you have in your home. You may just need to prepare them in a way that makes them accessible to your child.
When it comes to preparing your home environment, you can consider multiple different areas in your home that will help your child connect to their environment. Here are some practical ways to incorporate Montessori at home!
Prepare Specific areas in your home
A great way to implement the Montessori philosophy into your home environment is to prepare the different areas in your home to meet your child’s needs and support independence. Many of the practical ways you can support your younger or older children in your home is through supporting them in activities of daily life. It is in these moments of getting dressed, helping to prepare dinner, or cleaning up a spill that they will gain new skills as well as confidence in their environment.
One way you could support your child’s need for movement and independence is by using a Montessori floor bed. A Montessori floor bed is just what it sounds like, a mattress or bed on the floor. A floor bed can be used during infancy. Check out this blog post to see how I have used a floor bed with my twins!
Another way to support independence is to prepare a dressing area that allows for greater independence in choosing their clothing. The best way to do this is through a Montessori wardrobe. You can check out this blog post about how to make a Montessori wardrobe.
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At a very young age, your child will be able to help with simple tasks in the kitchen. Again, finding ways to support our small children in this real work is the most important thing. This means, taking opportunities to get the essential tools for their small hands. This will enable them to help cut vegetables and mix up cookie dough and do so with appropriately sized objects. These tasks are full of potential!
We may consider setting up a play area in a Montessori way. This area may be in your living room or maybe a separate space altogether. You can have open shelving to allow your child to see what is available. No need to go invest in shelving right away, you could use the bottom shelf of a book shelf or a lower cabinet.
Limit how many toys are available, between 6 and 8 seems to be a good range. By limiting the number of toys you have out, you are creating a solution to not knowing where things go because there is too much out! Rotating toys also helps the child to better see what is available and may increase their ability to choose what to play with. Then, you can rotate toys periodically based on your child’s interests and age.
Preparing a space in your home for your child to sit down to put their shoes and coat on is a great way to incorporate those activities of practical life. You may use a small chair or step stool. Hang a hook low for hanging up their coat and have a small basket for their shoes.
Yes, even your bathroom is part of your prepared environment. During a season of potty training, the preparation of this environment will be important. You can prepare it with a small potty, a change of clothes, a book about toilet learning, and a way for them to wash their hands.
Also, you could have a step stool up to the counter and a place where your child could have easy access to their toothbrush and any other self-care items that they may use. Having a hook or towel rack that is within reach for them to hang their towel would be a wonderful addition as well.
Incorporate Montessori through Practical Life Exercises
The exercises of practical life are simply the everyday activities that a child does. Things like getting dressed, having a snack, and dusting. These practical skills can be divided into four main categories: preliminary exercises, care of self, care of the environment, and grace and courtesy. Real-life opportunities will be some of the most practical ways to incorporate Montessori in your home.
Fine motor skills are developed and refined through practical life activities. We can offer opportunities in our days for practical life. You can speak about these moments in a very enticing way. Think about inviting your child to do some of these things. You may say something to them like, “Can I show you how we can put your shirt on your hanger?”
What are Preliminary Exercises?
When considering what thing to show a child how to do in the context of practical life, we want to give them the necessary prerequisites for such tasks. For example, before we have a child pour water from a pitcher, we want to make sure they are able to pick up and set down objects, as well as know when to stop pouring so they don’t overfill the cup. Sometimes it is these simple, things we don’t even realize that we are showing them how to do. But these simple things are what help them during more complex activities.
Starting with these simpler tasks will lay the strong foundation for more complex tasks down the road. Think about what things you may want your child to be able to do. Then think of the very basic skills or actions that make up that task. Then start by practicing those small steps first and then working into more complex tasks.
Care of Self
There is no shortage of opportunities for practical life when it comes to care of oneself. For the first year of life, care of self is performed by the adult or caretaker. We can include our baby in this process by sportscasting. Sportscasting is basically telling our baby what we are doing before we do it. For example, when we are going to get them dressed we may say, “Ok, I’m going to take your pants off. First this leg. Now this leg. Your pants are off.” As a baby moves into toddlerhood they will be able to participate more and more. By their later years of toddlerhood will likely be dressing mostly independently!
In the book “The Montessori Baby” by Simone Davis, she says “We offer as little help as possible and as much as necessary.” I think this is such a perfect quote becuase it honors a child’s need for independence while still being there to support when needed.
Another aspect of care of self is food preparation. Preparing food is a necessary skill and there are so many easy ways to involve a child in the process. Investing in a learning tower for your child will help elevate them to counter height and will help them feel like an important part of the family by contributing to the nourishment of their family. Making tools and utensils accessible to your child and preparing spaces in your kitchen where they can work alongside you is a wonderful experience for them.
Care of the Environment
Caring for the environment is a huge part of the practical life skills we introduce to children. Care of the environment refers to things like dusting, sweeping, cleaning up a spill, washing dishes, folding, arranging flowers, washing windows, and even sewing a button. If your child goes to a Montessori school then they will likely get all of these types of experiences in the Montessori environment. However, these are also things that you can do at home with your child. These are tasks that you are likely doing in your day as well, and you can invite your child to join you as you do your work. Young children love purposeful work like this!
Grace and Courtesy
Grace and courtesy lessons are moments when we can roleplay specific language and gestures that are used in different social situations as preparation for a child or a reminder of something we want them to be aware of. There are many real-life experiences that we want our children to be prepared for. For example, how to greet a family member at a birthday party or how to say thank you when receiving a gift.
We can offer grace and courtesy presentations to give them the experience of seeing and then practicing what they can say and do in different scenarios. These presentations are short and modeled using natural language that the child could repeat in a real experience of a situation.
The best part of grace and courtesy lessons is how they support the child in real life. By offering them specific language and gestures for social settings, we are helping them and giving them to tools to be most successful. Remember that we are helping children to understand how the world works so that they can work well in the world.
The Preparation of YOU (The Prepared Adult)
Dr. Maria Montessori spoke a lot in her books about the preparation of the adult. In Montessori, the teacher is referred to as a guide. As parents, we are mothers and fathers first. But I think that part of the role of a parent is to guide my children toward things that are productive for their development and support their interests.
To be a prepared adult we need to first come to understand the needs of a child as well as what their natural progression of development is. Then, once we have this mental framework, we will be able to support that natural progression through our guidance and the prepared environment.
Becoming an Observer
Observation is something that is critical to doing Montessori. Observation is an art and something that Dr. Maria Montessori herself did so much of. It was through observing children that she came to understand these patterns of their development and needs. We too can use observation in our home to know how to better guide our child in their daily activities.
Likely, you are already observing your child, but maybe not purposefully. You could observe your child and do so through different lenses. Things like how they use their toys, how long it keeps their interest, and what are their movements like. Observation may also give you insight into what Montessori practical life activities to try with your child. For example, maybe they are showing a lot of interest in plants. You may show them how to water a plant or how to dust the leaves of a plant.
Balancing Freedom and Responsibility
One essential Montessori principle is the idea of freedom and responsibility. In Montessori environments, there are a few basic freedoms: the freedom to choose, the freedom to communicate, and the freedom to move. With each of those freedoms comes the need for a certain level of responsibility. For example, if a child has the freedom to move, they are responsible to move without harming others. Obviously, in the first few years of life, we are working to model and set these boundaries and limits with children.
Another practical way to incorporate Montessori is to consider what those limits in your home are and then work towards being firm but kind in upholding those limits. Just remember, it is a limit for a reason and limits need to be tested in the mind of a child. So if it feels hard, it is probably a sign that you are doing a good job, and keeping limits and boundaries in a loving and respectful way is hard work.
Encouragement vs. Praise
When children are learning so much and working so hard at something it can be hard to not get super excited for them and say “Good job!”. However, if a child is truly engaged in something and concentrating on it to the point of being successful at it, then we don’t want to do anything that would interrupt that concentration.
It is important to encourage our children, but this is different than praise. Praising often sounds like “good job”, “nice work” or “amazing!”. These praise statements are not specific or help the child to know what they have just done was good. Instead, we may offer encouragement that speaks more about their efforts and successes rather than the outcome. For example, if a child is making a painting. Instead of saying “Good job” we may say, “Wow, it looks like you really took your time on that. Tell me about why you chose the colors you did?”. In this example, we have affirmed something specific to the child and offered them encouragement.
At a very young age, during infancy and toddlerhood, we can begin using sportscasting as a type of encouragement. This will double as language and vocabulary enrichment as well! For example, if a baby begins sitting up. Rather than saying, “Good job!” we may say something like “You are sitting up all on your own!”. We can say something like this with just as much excitement but it also puts more emphasis on what specifically the child did that we are encouraging. It’s the child’s action that we are encouraging.
I hope you have gained some knowledge around a few important Montessori principles as well as taken in some practical ways to incorporate Montessori in your home!